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Philadelphia, Pennsylvania :: City of Murals

As we drove into Philadelphia, I wasn’t very impressed.  It was dreary outside, dilapidated houses and warehouses could be seen on each side of the road, and run-down commercial strips welcomed us into the city.  My first impression mirrored what most people told be about Philly.  Friends and acquaintances who described Philadelphia liberally used words like “dirty” and “angry.”  Since my friends from North Carolina chose to move to Philly, I not only wanted to see them, but had to see this city for myself.

And then there was color.  And then more color.  Our drive into the city brought us upon mural after beautiful mural.  These weren’t your ordinary mediocre murals (“When I heard the word ‘mural’ I envisioned painted cats sitting in the windows,” one man told us at the dog park).  The murals in Philadelphia are sophisticated and creative, displaying cultural narrative and artistic insight in unexpected locations.  Many are taller than 3 stories high, stretching far across large buildings, and can be seen at least a half mile away.

The group that is responsible for this beauty is the Mural Arts Program, a public art program that serves the city of Philadelphia.  In fact, in the past 25 years, the Mural Arts Program has created almost 3,000 murals, hence Philly’s nickname, “City of Murals.”  It is refreshing to see an urban art program not only be widely successful, but to also incorporate significant meaning within the process and end result of it’s artwork.  The murals create neighborhood-based projects, address themes that are pertinent to the community and raise awareness, as well as help to revitalize buildings and spaces that lack color and vision.

In the book “The Tipping Point,” Malcom Gladwell discusses the influence of beautification and general repair on a community’s crime rate.  The Broken Windows theory, developed by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling, argues that crime is the result of neglect and disorder.  “If a window is broken and left unrepaired,” Gladwell states, “people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge.  Soon, more windows will be broken, and the sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street on which it faces, sending a signal that anything goes.”

The Mural Arts Program tackles city beautification through the use of the Broken Windows theory on a grand scale.  In fact, the the program began in response to the excessive amount of graffiti adorning the streets throughout the city.  Giving graffiti artists supplies, an allocated space, and ownership of the mural projects reduced street graffiti, thus cleaning up the overall look of Philadelphia.  When a professional piece of artwork is installed on a building, it communicates that there is a group of organized people that care about the space.  A new mural is not the only solution to crime prevention and community rebuilding, but it is certainly a productive and cost-effective start.

The time that we spent in Philly does not serve the city justice, but I enjoyed visiting the city and would definitely come back.  Nick and I saw a number of similarities between our hometown of Durham, North Carolina, and Philadelphia.  They both have a bad reputation due to the close proximity of underdeveloped areas to nice neighborhoods, yet have the diverse population and creative character to make it a desirable city in which to live.  Durham is much smaller than Philly, but after discussing the city’s character with our friends, we all decided that Philly must be the “Durham of the north.”

To learn more about the Mural Arts Program, visit muralarts.org.
To read further about the murals on PhiladelphiaUSA.travel,
click here.

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One Comment

  1. Wow that is awesome!! It was nice to meet you both in Memphis… Look forward to seeing more of your travels!

    1. Shawn on April 1st, 2009 at 2:49 pm

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